You Can’t Choose Your Neighbors

Since we’ve lived in Joshua Tree, the house behind us has been empty. The house we live in is on the last street in this part of Joshua Tree; beyond is Mojave Desert Land Trust land, and if I stretch my neck just right, I can see the corner of the National Park from here.

So we’re out there, as the kids say, and while we have a nice basin view from the front porch, the view out the back is the overwhelming natural beauty and classic Joshua Tree we came here for. We get this “backyard” view from our dining room, kitchen window, my office, and Ayin’s studio:


The empty house is pretty much the only thing that isn’t natural out there, but we’ve become used to it; it’s part of the landscape.

empty house

It was owned by an elderly woman who owned quite a few houses in Joshua Tree. It’s worn down and needs work, but there it sat, empty.

Until a few months ago, anyway. That’s when we heard it was going to be put up for sale. For 1.4 million dollars.

That was terrible news for us for a number of reasons. First, we’ve enjoyed complete privacy out back. People sitting on their porch waving at us or seeing me standing naked in front of the sink hasn’t been a thing. But what can you do? We knew it wouldn’t stay empty forever.

Second, it’s dark outside at night because the empty house just has a single bulb burning on the porch. People living in the house means lights on every night and probably eight miles of string lights. Another thing, anyone who can afford 1.4 million dollars for an extreme fixer-upper is probably going to renovate, meaning months (or years) of construction. Not wonderful.

But worst of all, the nightmare—but likely—scenario was some “investor” would buy it and turn it into an Airbnb.

Airbnbs are strangling Joshua Tree and the surrounding communities. They are destroying what used to be neighborhoods and making affordable long-term rentals for people who want to live and work here next to impossible to find. They are noisy and dirty and attract a lot of people who seem to have no love for the desert. They just want an Instagrammable weekend. And to get drunk, scream-talk to each other outside, and play loud music. Airbnb is a scourge in most places they fester. And they are festering here.

Hypocrisy alert: we often stay in Airbnbs when we go anywhere. I won’t try to justify that; I can’t. I’m just leaving it here so you know.

All this probably sounds whiney because it is. We don’t have a right to that house being silent and empty. But that’s how life has been here for years, so we were saddened to hear that the house had found a buyer.

But then a miracle occurred

A local bought the house.

Not just a local, but a creative local. A musician (pianist) and, by all accounts, an all-around good person. He already owns the house on top of the hill and bought the house behind us as “overflow” for when he has guests. It probably didn’t hurt that the house behind us came with 20 acres of land that butt up to the land his current house is on.

let's buy two

The house on the hill was built by sculptor Howard Pierce. His studio was up there, kilns and all. We have a quail family that he made.

Howard Pierce quail family

So that sound you hear is a massive sigh of relief, not only from us but from our neighbors who had the same Airbnb or monstrous remodel fears that we did. No doubt the new owner will do some construction. The place is just an empty shell at the moment.

But it means a lot that a local bought the place, and it won’t become a revolving door of partiers. We’ll hear every word said over there, every clearing of the throat. We’re in kind of a bowl here, and sound travels far and easily.

I try not to be the old grump complaining that things used to be better, but things used to be better. I mean, stuff like this is proof of that. The commodification, commercialization, and Instagram-azation of Joshua Tree are heartbreaking for those of us who were drawn to it for what it used to be.

But selfishly, I can rest a little easier knowing that we will keep our relative peace and quiet here. For now.

We’re renting, so there’s no guarantee that we’ll be here in five years anyway. We could get a chance to buy this place eventually, but who knows what the market will be by then? When the aging husk of a small house sells for over a million dollars, the future is uncertain.


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